In the Metaverse. Vocal assistants. AR. VR. The smartphone has been stomping on everyone's Next Big Thing for years.
Over the past few years, The Next Big Thing after Smartphones had been promised seemingly wherever you went. They would agree that the iPhone is the most widely used product in the history of consumer electronics and that smartphones completely reprogrammed the globe. Have you seen, however, this voice assistant that commands Morgan Freeman to give you driving instructions or these enormous goggles that let you to play ping-pong with a person anywhere in the world? The future is here.
As businesses of all sizes struggle with a challenging economy and the fact that the pandemic wasn't so much an accelerant of future trends as it was, well, a global pandemic that forced everyone to change their lives dramatically and practically overnight, we are in a period of retrenchment in the tech industry. We're largely back to 2019 now that most people are back at work and most children are back in school. Instead of living in 2039.
The future, or at least the one the upstarts promised, has suffered as a result over the past few months. 11,000 employees were let off by Meta, including those at Reality Labs, the group in charge of creating Quest products and putting the Metaverse into action. The Quest Pro, which was meant to be an alluring look into the future of augmented and virtual reality, is largely a failure.
Amazon reportedly lost 10,000 positions overall, with the Alexa team reportedly suffering the most. About 20% of Snap's employees were let go, including members of the Spectacles team, and the company scrapped its portable drone. The long-rumored AR glasses from Apple are reportedly years away, and CEO Tim Cook has stated that moving forward, the business needs to be "extremely cautious" in its hiring. Microsoft's decision to become a Quest software supplier casts serious question on the future of the HoloLens.
There is little money or room to construct things that don't function because of the declining stock prices in the tech sector and the uncertain economic outlook, and none of these companies' large, futuristic bets are currently paying off. The free money is suddenly gone after a decade of growth (and two recent years of mega-growth), leaving a lot of huge ideas without a business plan or enough customers.
The failure of Amazon may be the most useful example here. The company invested a significant amount of time and money into developing Alexa after attempting and failing to enter the phone market with the Fire Phone. According to Dave Limp, senior vice president of devices and services at Amazon, "I'll accept five Fire Phone failures, if I can have one Alexa," he recently told the Financial Times.
To be fair, there aren't many IT categories that are a huge success in these uncertain times. (Aside from Mac sales, I suppose? It appears that the lesson here is to deliberately destroy your items and then improve them after the fact to boost sales.) Even the smartphone market has experienced a downturn this year: worldwide shipments fell by around 8.7% year over year in August, according to the research firm IDC.
After that, nothing really improved. Apple's launch of the iPhone 14 didn't go as well as they had hoped, in part due to supply issues but also because it wasn't a particularly thrilling upgrade over the iPhone 13. The Google Pixel 7 turned out to be a fine phone but an equally unattractive upgrade. The same is true for the Samsung Galaxy S22 and most other products you might purchase from Huawei or OnePlus. Flipping and folding phones may still exist, but overall, the phone industry is a mature one with a large market, so new ideas are hard to come by.
However, it seems like phones are spreading faster than ever. Phones perform even better in the areas where voice assistants and AR glasses are already good. Both Android and iOS have surprisingly effective voice dictation capabilities, and Google Maps' Live View feature is already a respectable augmented reality navigation tool. Using Snapchat on your phone will yield better and more enjoyable pictures than using Spectacles will. The majority of the metaverse's potential is already being realized in Fortnite and Roblox, where you don't get imprisoned in the virtual world with no way out and no legs. Although everyone is working to create new and improved platforms, it's possible that none will ever be as potent and versatile as the touchscreen in your pocket.
Even though smartphones have been so amazing for so long, they may now be dull. They've been so ingrained and pervasive in our lives that it's even difficult to get rid of them now. How can you defeat the all-powerful tool you carry about with you at all times? I presume battery life. However, good luck using it with your AR glasses.
There is much to be said about the potential for other devices to not only do some things better than phones but also to reshape our relationship with technology. Phones aren't flawless. Whatever eventually replaces the phone as our primary computing device, let's hope it doesn't use as many push notifications and other tricks to steal our personal information and keep us glued to our screens for too many hours every day. The next great thing is the huge thing in your pocket right now, though, as the tech sector resets and repositions itself to determine how the next decade will appear.